account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upaudio-less-volume audio-not-playing audio-plus-volume audio awarded books calendar close-modal closedate document education emailevent Facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay pluspost preview project reports search-bigsearch-old search share startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Private sector childcare in England

Researchers: Antonia Simon | Charles Owen

Project overview

This project will provide evidence on the reach and impact of private sector childcare in England.

In the most recent DfE Childcare and Early Years Provider Survey, almost two thirds of nurseries classified themselves as ‘private for profit’. These companies also receive the bulk of childcare subsidies offered by the UK Government, through free places offered to the parents of three, four and some two year olds. For 2018, this is expected to total approximately £3.45 billion, yet information about these private nurseries is remarkably difficult for parents, the public and the Government to find and there has been very little research undertaken on their operation to date.

This project will use publicly available information about private nurseries to explore issues of finance, location, continuity, transparency, accountability and governance. It will be divided into four work streams. The first will involve a review of the reach of the private childcare industry, using market research. The second strand will comprise a forensic accounting analysis of major nursery chains and their subsidiaries. In the third work stream, ‘provision mapping’ will be carried out to determine the quality ratings of private providers in different local authorities with different levels of deprivation. In the final work stream, case studies of private providers will be undertaken using desk-based research and telephone interviews. A key aim of the project will be to consider how regulation used elsewhere in the education sector or in other countries might be used to support, shape and improve private provision in England.


  • Antonia Simon
    University College London
  • Charles Owen
    University College London

  • Eleanor Ireland
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.